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Pinhole camera

The FUNdamental camera


A hand-made 8 X 10 box pinhole camera with the shutter open.
A hand-made 8 X 10 box pinhole camera with the shutter open.

We are grateful to pinhole camera specialist, Daniel Bouman for writing this section of the site, and for providing his superb examples of pinhole photography to illustrate it. (See About Daniel Bouman.)

WHY PLAY WITH PINHOLE CAMERAS?

The main reason is to have fun! But, equally as important is the learning experience that only a pinhole camera can provide. Pinholes afford a simple, direct, hands-on way to have a visually exciting experience while learning the basics of photography. As any educator will affirm, people learn quickly when they are enjoying themselves.


LETS TALK ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY TODAY FIRST.

Modern photographic tools have developed into an amazingly complex array of fantastically capable technology. This technology is accompanied by a language of its own, a language that is all but impenetrable by the average person. Sometimes a return to simple tools and tasks can lay the framework for a better understanding of today's more sophisticated photography principles.

Where should the beginner start with photography? How does a person set out to achieve the intuitive mastery of tools and materials that characterizes the work of such great photographer-artists as Henry Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams? Start with the pinhole camera, of course.

Pinhole camera photograph of Clearwater River taken on Kodak 126 film at an exposure of 1sec at /128.
Pinhole camera photograph of Clearwater River taken on Kodak 126 film at an exposure of 1sec at /128.

Polaroid Super Shooter pinhole camera using Pack film, type 665 - Exposure of 10 sec at ƒ/240.
Polaroid Super Shooter pinhole camera using Pack film, type 665 - Exposure of 10 sec at ƒ/240.

Beginning students are not the only folks who can benefit from experimenting with pinholes. Seasoned professionals sometimes become so immersed in the technical demands of photography that they lose touch with the emotional side of image making. Giving up some of the precise control offered by modern technology and learning to act intuitively with a simple but dramatic tool, such as the venerable pinhole camera, can help a person reconnect with their inner vision.

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT FROM THIS SECTION

Were going to briefly go back to the very beginnings of photography and discover the origin of the pinhole camera. Well make a simple pinhole camera, solve the practical problems typically encountered in making it work, and then have fun making images. Along the way, youll probably find - after making a camera with your own hands - that a lot of the baffling language of modern high tech photography will fall naturally into your understanding. And there is the psychological benefit of just having some fun. Pinhole cameras and enjoyment seem to go together.

To get started, click on any of the links in the left-hand column. We recommend beginning with Ancient origins.


8
8"X10" Agfapan 100 negative exposed in a pinhole camera. (You are probably wondering about the blue rock in a black and white image. Hand-tinted by Daniel Bouman, the blue is a very effective addition in this image.)


Further information...

Ancient origins

What makes the pinhole work?

The pinhole & the modern camera

Building a pinhole camera

Using your new pinhole camera

Beyond the simple box pinhole

Pinholes and science

Pinholes and the arts

About Daniel Bouman